Angolan peace 'threat' to Okavango Delta

Cuito River in Angola PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
Cuito River in Angola PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

The welcome peaceful situation in Angola is bringing an unfortunate threat to the Okavango Delta. This is according to the Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM) executive secretary, Phera Ramoeli.

Ramoeli was speaking in Maun, during the signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between OKACOM and Botswana Wild Bird Trust on Tuesday.

“The increasing urbanisation at the catchment of the Okavango River basin in (southeast) Angola, increasing population, poverty and food security are major challenges that are affecting the water in the Okavango River system,” Ramoeli said.

Other challenges he said were rampant veldt fires and the fact that the whole region where all the Okavango Delta water originates has remained unprotected. Chief Executive Officer of the Wild Bird Trust (WBT) John Hilton said their organisation has made great work at the catchment with National Geographic Society through the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project (NGOWP).

According to the joint statement from OKACOM and WBT released on Tuesday, “OKACOM has, therefore, partnered with the Wild Bird Trust to support the implementation of the NGOWP.  The primary aim of this partnership is to support efforts led by the Angolan government to better protect the Okavango-Zambezi Water Tower in the remote undeveloped Angolan highlands”.

The NGOWP has been exploring and surveying the upper reaches of the Okavango River Basin and its remote, isolated watersheds for almost four years, and has established that these river catchments are of keystone importance to the future of the OKACOM member states and the southern African economy.

After being cut from the world during the civil war the NGOWP researchers at the catchment discovered over 30 potentially new species to science, new populations of cheetah and wild dog, hundreds of plants and animals not known to be distributed there, vast previously-unknown stratified peat deposits, and 19 unique source lakes in the Water Tower.

The Miombo woodlands and forest patches that make up these watersheds represent the largest remaining such woodlands in Africa, covering more than 110,000 square kilometers. “These initial findings suggest a requisite for OKACOM and the WBT, on behalf of the NGOWP, to recognise the significance of protecting the forested sources and upper reaches of the Cuito (main tributary of the Okavango River), Cuando (source of the Kwando River), the Lungue-Bungo (main tributary of the Zambezi River), and Bulozi Floodplains, and to join the NGOWP in supporting the governments of Angola, Botswana and Namibia in the preservation of this important freshwater supply in a region under significant water stress due to scarcity,” read the joint statement.

Millions of people, half of the world’s remaining elephants, unique biodiversity and endemic species, downstream wildlife tourism industries, and regional food and water security depend on protection of the Okavango-Zambezi Water Tower River Basin.

The time has come to protect the sources of these great rivers for future generations by co-hosting events to provide opportunity for stakeholder engagement and partnerships.

OKACOM and WBT say their MOU “reinforces NGOWP efforts to promote the conservation of the natural resources of the Okavango River Basin in general, and supporting each other’s mutually agreeable efforts to support the Angolan government in the formal protection of the sources of the Okavango River in the Water Tower”.

It is envisaged that, by November 2019, the NGOWP would have established a permanent presence in the Water Tower to facilitate the launch of community based natural resource management interventions in partnership with the Angolan government.

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